Husband woke up at 4:45 this morning and got up to follow reporting on the US Presidential election returns.
I went back to sleep and didn’t join him until a more civilized 5:45 am, but regardless, there we were, foregoing much-needed sleep to studiously eye the electoral college estimates and state-by-state tallies.
Why? Because we care. We care deeply.
I’m not going to share with you whether we were on TeamWin or not, because that isn’t the point.
Neither is whom we each cast our ballot for or why. How we voted isn’t the issue here; how we feel about our country is.
The popular vote count ticked ever highward and key states were called in favor of one presidential nominee or the other.
Finally Mitt Romney conceded to Barack Obama, both contenders speaking first to each other, and then to their devoted followers.
I am always in awe of the ability of the losing candidate to publicly concede defeat after an exhaustive, often bruising campaign. I empathize with putting your heart, soul, time, energy and effort into a cause for months (indeed years) on end, only to have it snuffed out in the final hours.
Romney kept his concession remarks brief but gracious; Obama kept his appreciative and conciliatory, attempting to forge a united electorate out of bitter rivalries.
That’s what you do when you transition from candidate to President: you set aside your role as outward face of your political party and take on, or in the case of an incumbent President, continue on with your role as leader of the American people.
Whether they agree with you or not. Whether they believe in your way ahead or not. Whether they share your views or not. Whether they like you or not. And for Obama, that means roughly 48% of the voting citizenship.
Much will be made of what the Republicans should have done or neglected to do or of the Democratic ticket taking such a decisive victory in the Electoral College (currently anticipated to be 303 to 206 electoral votes); of the shifting definitions of the tags ’independent’, ‘moderate’, ‘political center’; of voter turnout and the voting predilections of various sub-groups by gender, age, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, geographic region.
You can talk all you want about trends, shifts, nuances, subtleties and clearcut changes in voting patterns.
Those endorsing the victor will celebrate the results; those supporting the losing candidate will lament them. There will be extensive analysis by both sides of what worked (and didn’t), what resonated (and didn’t), what mattered (and didn’t).
But there is no getting around a simple fact: asI write this, out of the estimated 115 million Americans who voted in this election, the winning candidate did so by approximately 2.3 million votes. In a country of 320 million people.
Almost 59 million people voted for Obama; nearly 57 million of his fellow countrymen did not. Now he must shift gears and do his best to lead the nation, a divided nation. A deeply divided nation.
He must spend his days and nights working tirelessly to move the country forward: bolster a sagging economy showing minimal improvement in fits and starts; get the unemployed, underemployed and those who have simply given up looking back to meaningful, productive, lucrative work; deal with myriad national and global political, economic and security challenges; put forward legislation to try to solve problems, mend fences and improve the lives not merely of the most vulnerable and fragile members of society, but of everyone.
A couple months ago I read a post that was starting to go viral at the time. I saw it on Facebook, but it was getting shared across a wide array of social media venues.
In it, the author calmly reminded his or her family, friends, coworkers, associates and/or followers that when they castigated or demonized members of his (or her) political persuasion - which remained unstated – they were, in essence, speaking directly to him (or her).
If you vocalized that conservatives or liberals were ignorant, arrogant, unfeeling, stupid, uncaring, unsophisticated, holier-than-thou, idiotic, unpatriotic, lazy, hard-hearted or any other of a long list of slurs, it was as if you were saying it to him/her when you chatted before the morning staff meeting, over coffee or at lunch, while picking up your children from school or dropping off their child from carpooling, over drinks at happy hour or over dinner in their home.
You can’t spew negativity at a group and then turn around and say ‘oh, but I didn’t mean you’. If you know someone whose political views differ from yours - at home, at work, at your place of worship or in your classroom, on the soccer field or at the ballpark, while volunteering or sharing a hobby or other interest – and care about them in any way, you can’t ascribe negative connotations to followers of those political beliefs but claim that the person you know and care about is an exception.
Enough with the negativity. Enough with taking one issue and making it your litmus test for acceptance or rejection.
Enough with the articles and speeches and talking heads telling us that one party believes in religion and values and security while the other believes in jobs and personal freedoms and acceptance.
Because when I look across my extended family, across the friends and acquaintances I’ve accumulated over the years, across the colleagues I’ve toiled next to in various jobs over a couple of careers, I know that we all care deeply about a whole host of issues, none of which are the sole purview of one political group or another.
Just as none of the values bandied about belong exclusively to one group and not the other.
It’s about respect, decency, democracy.
We are all good, kind, hardworking, caring people who want the best for our families, our communities, our nation, our world. We may differ as to the sources of various problems and societal ills, or the policy prescriptives to remedy these challenges, even the legislative and judicial fixes and the very people we want to see creating that change.
So when we badmouth this group or that, this party or that, this candidate or that, this individual or that, we are talking trash about those we respect, care about, perhaps even love.
I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t difficult challenges ahead. Of course there are, and always will be.
But I’m sick and tired of the ‘us vs. them’ mentality. And believe me, it goes well beyond the United States. It is pernicious and infects people, groups, countries around the world.
Wars have started over as much, not to mention bigotry, persecution, alienation, objectification, conflict, violence.
I’m tired of the snide comments and smug cross-cultural insults floating through the blogosphere, media and social media. Because when you criticize another nationality, another group, another faction, you are perpetuating this dark whorl of negativity.
I don’t slap labels on your views, your religious preference, your causes or pet issues, your nationality, your political systems. I don’t wonder aloud or online why ‘you people’ don’t do this or try that or can’t get your act together on the other.
When you do so, not only are you ignoring the complex and complicated roots of so many issues while advertising your own lack of cultural understanding (and please note that I said understanding, not acceptance or agreement), you’re really labeling me, and those I love. Whether you meant to or not.
No more ‘us vs. them’. There’s far too much to do in this world to make it better, to ease pain and suffering and promote equality and justice.
Starting now, it’s We the People.
I hope you’ll join me.
[Image credit: Chuck Felix, portfolio 303, freedigitalphotos.net]